What is rent control?
Rent control is the older of the two rent regulation systems in place in New York City. Today it covers only those tenants who live in buildings built before February 1, 1947 and who have lived in their apartments since July 1, 1971 (if the building has fewer than three units, since April 1, 1953), or a person who succeeded an apartment who was in since then.
Rent control is widely misunderstood. Many times people refer to rent control but are actually referring to rent stabilization – the newer system of rent regulation. There are around a million rent stabilized apartments but fewer than 25,000 rent controlled apartments remain.
How many rent controlled apartments are there in New York City?
There are about 22,000 apartments covered by rent control in New York City today, down from over a million in the 1970’s.
Most rent-controlled tenants earn about $22,000 a year, and pay over 33% of their income for rent. After decades of organizing, the state legislature in 2019 made significant changes to to change the system to make it easier for the elderly tenants who live in rent-controlled apartments.
The Maximum Base Rent System
The Maximum Base Rent system that was used prior to June 2019 has been superseded by a new MBR increase system
How do Rent Control tenants get rent increases now?
As with the old system, landlords must apply once every two years, six months prior to the increase period. They now must use the MBR Application for 2020-2021. DHCR will allow qualifying landlords to raise the rent by the allowable increase.
As of June 2019, the rent increase will now be an average of the last 5 Rent Guidelines Board 1-year rent increases or 7.5%, whichever is less. Landlords will still need to apply for an increase. For 2020-2021, the average of the last 5 RGB increases is 00.85% .
Some landlords choose not to participate in the rent increase system for Rent Controlled tenants. And some landlords have so many violations, they are not eligible for rent increases. For tenants in these buildings, the landlord is not permitted to collect any increase. (See below for more information.)
What is the fuel pass along for rent controlled tenants?
As of June 14, 2019 – Landlords are no longer allowed to add fuel and labor pass along to rent controlled tenants.
Is there any way to stop the annual rent increases for my rent controlled apartment?
Rent increases are granted only if the owner files for it six months prior to the cycle and certifies that essential services are being maintained and that 100% of rent impairing violations and 80% of all other violations that were in place on January 1 of that year have been removed.
Rent-controlled tenants can challenge the increase if the violations were not removed. For example, if your apartment has an ongoing violation for lack of hot water or heat, the landlord’s application for the increase will be denied — and if that denial survives the owner’s appeal, the owner can not get it retroactively later. (Unlike rent stabilization where the landlord can get all lost increases once the violations are cleared.) To challenge the increase, you must file an RA-94 within 35 days of receiving the RN-26.
Rent-controlled tenants have two other challenges: tenants can use the RA-94 to say that the landlord failed to provide essential services (since the landlord swore that essential services were being provided when he filed for the MBR order), and, that the owner does not need the increase in order to run the building (the owner must certify that he paid, or promise to pay, at least 90% of the expense allowance for the operation and maintenance of the building).
In addition, like all rent-regulated tenants, rent-controlled tenants can get a rent freeze and rent reduction if the landlord is not providing services or making repairs and the tenant follows the proper procedures. To get the rent freeze and roll back, the tenant must write a letter to the landlord, mailed by certified mail, describing the problem. If, after 10 days, the owner doesn’t fix the issue, the tenant can file for a decrease with the DHCR. If the problem is lack of heat and hot water, tenants should call 311 until an inspector visits and records the violation, and then get a copy of the violation (from HPD’s website or in person) and send it to the DHCR with the proper form.
Tenants who qualify for the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption or Disability Rent Increase Exemption programs should apply as soon as they qualify. Go to our SCRIE page for more information.
Rent Overcharges in Rent Control Apartments
If a landlord charges a rent-controlled tenant more than they are allowed or applied and was approved for an increase when they should not have been, rent controlled tenants can file and overcharge complaint with DHCR using the form RA-89C
History of Rent Control
The rent control law is descended from the broad rent and price controls that were in place at the end of World War II (of course, rent laws were also in effect in NYC in the 1920’s). During the late 1940’s the federal rent control system, which had been nationwide, was gradually lifted and states that wanted to preserve rent control were permitted to take on administration of the system. While New York City’s housing market suffered from both the lack of construction during the war as well as a large population influx, it also had a well organized labor and tenant movement. Thanks to agitation from the huge number of tenants in the city, Albany took over the rent control system in 1950. After that, the administration of rent control for New York City went from state to city to state, and a variety of decontrol provisions were passed. Today, rent control covers only about 22,000 apartments, down from well over one million in its heyday. The system is now under vacancy decontrol – once the tenant moves out, the apartment is decontrolled–it either becomes rent stabilized or can become unregulated entirely.
Who are rent-controlled tenants?
There are approximately 22,000 rent-controlled apartments in New York City. The median income of those households was $22,200. The median rent is $551 per apartment, and the median household pays over 33.5% of income for rent. The city’s rent-controlled tenants are mostly elderly – with most tenants having lived in their apartments since 1971 or before.
What are the special challenges?
Rent controlled tenants are elderly and living on fixed incomes. The city’s Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption program provides relief for some tenants. Tenants who are 62 or older, whose income is $50,000 or less, and who pay 1/3 of their income or more for rent can get their rent frozen. The program is great for those who qualify, assuming that they get the rent frozen right when they reach the qualifying marks. However, many tenants do not qualify in time to freeze the rent before it goes over the 1/3 level of income for rent. (The federal benchmark for an affordable rent is less than 30% of income.)
If you have neighbors who you think might be interested, let them know about the program. Information is available at senior centers and by calling the city at 311.
For more information about rent control:
The New York State Division of Housing & Community Renewal administers the rent control system. Fact sheets, complaint forms and other information can be found by calling 833-499-0343 or on the agency’s website. Go to the Rent Control section.